On a recent Florida vacation-with-a-urbanist-theme, I made a point of visiting some “famous” examples of planned towns. Some were from the early 1900’s (eg Winter Park City, covered previously; and Coral Gables, maybe to be covered in the future) and two were new towns launched in the last decades specifically to provide an alternative to conventional lollipop cul-de-sacs of garage-fronted car-dependent suburbia. Celebration I liked. It actually seemed to have “launched” itself into a growth pattern and developed a genuine sense of place. Definitely a better suburb.
The second new urbanist townsite was Tradition, near Port St Lucie, near the Atlantic coast of Florida about half way down the state.
The town appears to have been started in 2003 and parts of it looked like a cut and paste of Celebration, or maybe it just had the same architects/planners, or maybe these were just the iconic symbols of new urbanism that every place had to have to establish its new urbanist credentials:
The first neighbourhood, near the Tradition town centre, looked promising, with a varied roof line, village-like density, and a clear architectural theme and signature metal roofs:
The house fronts were close to the sidewalk and street, giving an urban feel. If anything, this was tighter to the street than at Celebration, with no inner boulevard between the sidewalk and curb.
The backs of the houses faced service laneways with garages and upper floor living spaces:
The varied façades looked a little bit strained, but maybe this town was built to a lower price point.
Here are two more back lanes:
The back lanes somehow seemed less cute, less attractive than those at Celebration. They definitely looked more traditional suburban, with very visible rows of garage doors. In fact, they looked more like streets than lanes. This of course can be the result of deliberate design, or can be the unfortunate result of a municipality’s inflexible code that specifies street widths. Many new urbanist dreams have been damaged or even foundered on the rocks of planning codes.
Nearby was the Tradition town centre, anchored by a New-England-goes-to-church style town hall, convention centre, and reception hall:
It was immediately adjacent the commercial village centre. The landscaping along the commercial streets was lush, and these commercial streets curved, making one want to walk along to explore and see what was around the next corner:
The building with street front trees looked better than those with fewer trees, because the trees animated the view. Without trees…
The town centre is varied store fronts, but it is immediately apparent that there is really just one long building behind, with varied fronts, much like a drive up mall or collection of big box stores have drawn-on fronts. Celebration had real three-dimensional buildings of varied sizes, this was starting to feel a bit like an amusement park, and it wasn’t Disney.
In fact, it wasn’t even a good amusement park, if one was to judge by the vacancy rate in the commercial storefronts. I would hazard a guess it was about 30% vacant, maybe more. There was a weekend fair being set up, but it wasn’t exactly inspiring.
The high vacancy rate might be due to the recession, or oversupply, or competition.
With a sinking feeling, we went exploring more.